Congress destiny?

With Singapore sadly bowing out from hosting the 11th World Zoroastrian Congress (WZC) in December 2017, the venue may shift to Perth or some other city in Australia in 2018. And if for any reason that is not feasible, the United Kingdom is willing to host the global meet and possibly North America. Dr Cyrus Poonawalla has agreed to sponsor the event as he did in Bombay in 2013.

Former Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Singapore (PZAS) president and main mover for the Congress to be held in the South East Asian country, Rustom Ghadiali lamented in an email to Parsiana dated June 14, 2015, “Eleven years of efforts all gone down.” He added that “the North American Congress to be held six months earlier in July 2017” provided one more pretext to those opposed to the Congress being held in Singapore.

Out of 200 plus PZAS voting members “only 37 were physically present and in addition five proxies were received,” for the meeting on May 31, Ghadiali noted in an earlier email of June 13, announcing PZAS’ decision to withdraw.

“Historically the community has a precedence of taking such large decisions (like the decision to start the Zoroastrian House) through EOGMs (extraordinary general meetings) and with a two-thirds majority. Therefore in this case also, a two-thirds (67%) majority was required to pass this resolution.

“Twenty-four (60%) replied yes to hold the Congress and 16 (40%) replied no. Therefore this resolution was not passed.

“Also, on further scrutiny of the supporting forms, we found that though 24 had said yes, only 11 had agreed to volunteer time and/or give some donation. A further three had said yes to time and/or donations, subject to some conditions on funding. Given the enormous resources required for hosting this effort these numbers were not encouraging.

“With the above being considered and with the low turnout for the EOGM and the mixed response to the survey, the indication is that we do not have enough support from the community to undertake this effort.”

It was an unfortunate end to the Association’s strenuous efforts. Singapore was to be awarded the prior 10th WZC for which a thick dossier had been submitted to the steering committee that decides who should host the Congress. The Singapore Tourism Board had also agreed to fund part of the expenses and assist in any way possible. But the newly elected Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trustees flexed their muscle and without even a formal application (only a handwritten letter on lined paper was submitted) they were awarded the meet.

Parsiana inquired from several prominent Zoroastrians involved with the Congress venue selection as to who would hold the meet now that Singapore had backed out. Former Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA) president Rohinton Rivetna replied, “The venue will be decided at the next GWG (Global Working Group) to be held in Udvada/Daman this December. Hopefully Australia will show interest and make a good proposal.”

“Yes we in Perth are keen to do so and are in discussions with GWG, etc,” confirmed Firoz Pestonji, president of the Business Association of Western Australian Zoroastrians and founder secretary of the Zoroastrian Association of Western Australia.

According to Dorab Mistry, former president of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE) who is the body’s spokesperson regarding the Congresses, “Perth had thrown its hat into the ring and so Perth has been requested to: firstly talk to other Australian associations and then if they are agreed, to put forward a joint Australian bid for the WZC to be hosted in Perth or any other Australian city that they all agree upon. They have been given time to work all this out.

“ZTFE has recommended that Australia may not be prepared for all this by 2017-18 since Perth has no track record of hosting any national or international event. Hence FEZANA (could) be invited to take over the WZC 2017 or 2018 depending on convenience, etc. FEZANA has the most experience and the resources and also can guarantee a large turnout which is becoming a problem these days. Lastly, (BPP chairman) Dinshaw Mehta stepped in saying that as an option: India can take over the 2017 Congress with the same team of Dr Poonawalla, Nadir Godrej and Maneck Davar. Dr Poonawalla has stepped in saying he is ready to sponsor and chair the next WZC if so invited. We at ZTFE heartily welcome this spontaneous and generous offer from Dr Poonawalla…

“If all else fails, we at ZTFE are also in a position to host the 2017 Congress and we would invite Dr Poonawalla to chair the Congress and Nadir Godrej to be its vice chair. After all Dr Poonawalla is an honorary life member of ZTFE and Nadir Godrej also has very strong connections with our association.”

Bombay is not in a position to commit to hosting any Congress till the new board of trustees is elected in September this year. The present board is hell bent on going down fighting with each other. The trustees are once again in the Bombay High Court over the expiry of Mehta’s term of office. Mehta says he has a right to complete three terms, that is until this October. His four bête noire BPP trustees — Arnavaz Mistry, Jimmy Mistry, Khojeste Mistree (the three “mysteries” as reader Kayomarz Patel refers to them) and Yazdi Desai contend the date is July 15 when Mehta completes 21 years. The BPP election scheme stipulates 21 years or three terms.

A compromise deal whereby Mehta could continue till October was turned down by him as a rider was attached: Mehta must commit not to stand again. An argument is made out that the Bombay High Court approved scheme limiting the term of office to 21 years or three consecutive terms cannot be applied retrospectively; it comes into force from the date of the judgment. Mehta says he will not be dictated to and the decision to recontest or not is for him to make, not them.

In the meanwhile the BPP employees’ union is turning up the heat as they claim insufficient progress has been made in renewing the labor contract that expired this January. The BPP claim they do not have adequate funds to meet the enhanced demands. The office of the Charity Commissioner has placed a status quo order on all trust property, thereby cutting off the BPP’s income which is almost wholly derived from transfer of flats. If the employees, including the pallbearers, go on strike, the trustees’ quarrels will hound Parsis beyond death.

Published in the Parsiana.